Warning – This is What Illegal Actions Landlords Should Avoid

April 8, 2020

Having dangerous or illegal issues in the real estate market? Here are the top illegal (+security) issues landlords should avoid.

Lawyer talking to the client

As a property owner, you have certain responsibilities and obligations to your tenants. Some of these are determined by basic human decency, while others are laid out in the law.

Keep in mind that the rules and regulations can vary from state to state, with some acts construed as illegal landlord actions anywhere.

Landlord’s illegal action N1: Asking the wrong questions

Finding the right tenants to rent your property is incredibly important.

If you have an applicant screening process in place, by talking to potential renters, you can gauge whether they will pay rent on time (if at all) and how well they will take care of your property.

You want to protect yourself and your investment, and that’s completely understandable, but you have to be cautious about the questions you ask potential tenants.

Even if meant in innocence, asking a disabled person about his disability or asking a couple if they are married can be illegal discrimination.

If those renters don’t get the property, they may view your line of questioning as a way to discriminate against them and file a complaint with a fair housing authority.

Knowing what questions can and shouldn’t be asked is important. If you’re uncertain whether or not the question you want to ask can be considered discriminatory or not, refrain from asking until you have talked to a lawyer.

Also, it may be prudent to have a lawyer give you a list of questions that are suitable to ask and phrased properly. That way, you can avoid this issue as much as possible.

You might also consider partnering with a company like Blueground. They have the ability to conduct tenant screening for you and know which questions are legal to ask and which ones aren’t.

All in all, having a company like this helps means you won’t have to worry about this step in the process and accidentally ask the wrong questions.

Landlord’s illegal action N2: Developing policies that discriminate against families

When it comes to discrimination, families see a lot of it when they are trying to rent a property. This often has to do with property owners viewing children as destructive and wanting to protect their investment from damage. Developing policies that make it difficult for families to rent your property could be an illegal landlord action.

Most places will have a limit in place on the number of residents that can stay in a unit.

In general, this is broken down to two occupants per bedroom.

Therefore, if you own a one-bedroom apartment, the maximum number of people who could legally stay there are two.

This practice is fine, but it can’t be applied differently if a family wants to rent the space. Doing so is against the law.

If you are concerned about damage occurring to the residence, then talk to a lawyer to find the best way to deal with this situation that won’t be discriminatory against families.

Landlord’s illegal action N3: Using generic forms

It’s incredibly important to have a written lease or rental agreement. This protects both you and the renters from any wrongdoing or issues.

However, a one-size-fits-all agreement or an outdated lease agreement that you’ve been using for the past 10 years probably isn’t going to be beneficial.

Men signing a contract

You need to make sure your lease agreement takes into account the laws of your state and doesn’t neglect any of the tenant’s rights.

Overall, there’s nothing wrong with taking some of the elements from a generic form and applying them to your own—especially if there isn’t a state law that addresses a specific concern.

But creating your own form that takes into account state laws and tenant rights is important. They should also update the form every few years to ensure it’s in compliance with any new laws that may have been passed.

Landlord’s illegal action N4: Not fulfilling promises

If you live in a highly competitive rental area, then you may have to make promises to potential tenants to get them to rent your property. This may include promising them their own parking space or repainting the residence or perhaps even paying for them to have cable TV.

If you make these promises, you need to fulfill them.

A tenant may be looking at a lot of properties but found yours to be the best because of the promises you made.

If you back out on your word, then you may have to deal with that tenant breaking the lease or suing you. This can be incredibly costly in both time and money.

Don’t take the risk!

Before making a promise, make sure you can follow through.

Landlord’s illegal action N5: Not fixing dangerous issues around and on the property

Every state has laws, rules, or regulations that rental properties have to meet basic safety and health standards.

If your property fails to meet these standards, you are engaging in illegal landlord actions.

Tenants may decide to leave the property or make the repairs themselves and deduct the cost from their rent. This leaves you without the income you need to make your business profitable.

Also, you may find it difficult to find new tenants to move into the place.

Man repairing a house

Keep up to date on repairs and ensure that renters are safe.

You may not be able to stop crime from occurring in the area.

However, you need to take appropriate steps to make it unappealing for criminals to target the property. You also need to ensure that tenants are safe so that they’ll want to stay for years to come.

Landlord’s illegal action N6: Various issues with security deposits

Asking for a security deposit will ensure that you have some funds if the tenant causes damage to your property.

In most cases, they are happy to pay.

However, it’s important to use the money properly, and in most cases that includes returning it.

Security deposits should only be used to pay for damage that occurs beyond normal wear and tear, rent that wasn’t paid, or cleaning that needs to be done before the property can be rented again.

Any other use of the funds isn’t legal.

For example, getting upgraded appliances or making cosmetic improvements is not legal.

In some cases, security deposits aren’t returned in the proper amount of time.

Many states have created deadlines for property owners to itemize how the deposit was used. Then, they would return any remaining balance to the tenant.

Having them wait for weeks or months to get that balance is illegal landlord action. This could result in a large fine issued to you, so take care of this as soon as possible.

Being a property owner can be a beneficial and rewarding experience.

Above all, there are some challenges that come with the task. But these can be overcome with determination and experience. It’s understandable that as the property owner, you would want to keep your rental looking as good as possible.

So don’t do anything illegal or discriminatory to accomplish that task.

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